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The new ‘Golden Age Of Oil’ That Wasn’t

Last winter, fossil-gas fans began trumpeting the dawn of a new “golden age of oil” that might kick-start the American economic system, generate thousands and thousands of new jobs, and free this country from its dependence on imported petroleum. Ed Morse, head commodities analyst at Citibank, was typical. In the Wall Avenue Journal he crowed, “The United States has develop into the quickest-growing oil and gas producer in the world, and is likely to stay so for the remainder of this decade and into the 2020s.”

As soon as this surge in U.S. power manufacturing was linked to a predicted growth in vitality from Canada’s tar sands reserves, the outcomes appeared apparent and uncontestable. “North America,” he announced, “is changing into the brand new Middle East.” Many other analysts have elaborated similarly on this rosy state of affairs, which now supplies the muse for Mitt Romney’s plan to realize “energy independence” by 2020.

By employing spectacular new technologies — notably deepwater drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking) — power corporations were stated to be on the verge of unlocking huge new stores of oil in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and shale formations throughout the United States. “A ‘Great Revival’ in U.S. oil production is taking form — a significant break from the near 40-year development of falling output,” James Burkhard of IHS Cambridge Energy Analysis Associates (CERA) instructed the Senate Committee on Vitality and Natural Resources in January 2012.

Elevated output was also predicted elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, especially Canada and Brazil. “The define of a brand new world oil map is rising, and it’s centered not on the Middle East however on the Western Hemisphere,” Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERA, wrote in the Washington Submit. “The new energy axis runs from Alberta, Canada, down via North Dakota and South Texas… to enormous offshore oil deposits discovered close to Brazil.”

Excessive Oil
It seems, however, that the long run might prove much more recalcitrant than these prophets of an American power cornucopia think about. To reach their formidable targets, power corporations will have to overcome severe geological and environmental obstacles — and current developments recommend that they’ll have a troublesome time doing so.

Consider this: while many analysts and pundits joined in the premature celebration of the new “golden age,” few emphasized that it will relaxation virtually entirely on the exploitation of “unconventional” petroleum assets — shale oil, oil shale, Arctic oil, deep offshore oil, and tar sands (bitumen). As for standard oil (petroleum substances that emerge from the bottom in liquid form and may be extracted utilizing familiar, standardized expertise), nobody doubts that it’ll continue its historic decline in North America.

The “unconventional” oil that is to liberate the U.S. and its neighbors from the unreliable producers of the Center East includes substances too exhausting or viscous to be extracted utilizing standard technology or embedded in forbidding places that require extremely specialised tools for extraction. Think of it as “tough oil.”

Shale oil, as an illustration, is oil trapped in shale rock. It could actually only be liberated by means of the applying of concentrated force in a process generally known as hydraulic fracturing that requires hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemically laced water per “frack,” plus the following disposal of huge quantities of toxic wastewater as soon as the fracking has been accomplished. Oil shale, or kerogen, is a primitive form of petroleum that must be melted to be helpful, a course of that itself consumes huge quantities of vitality. Tar sands (or “oil sands,” because the trade prefers to call them) have to be gouged from the earth utilizing open-pit mining technology or pumped up after first being melted in place by underground steam jets, then treated with various chemicals. Solely then can the fabric be transported to refineries by way of, for example, the extremely controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Similarly, deepwater and Arctic drilling requires the deployment of specialised multimillion-greenback rigs along with enormously pricey backup security programs underneath essentially the most dangerous of situations.

All these processes have not less than one factor in frequent: every pushes the envelope of what’s technically attainable in extracting oil (or natural gas) from geologically and geographically forbidding environments. They are all, that is, versions of “extreme energy.” To supply them, vitality corporations should drill in extreme temperatures or excessive weather, or use extreme pressures, or operate beneath extreme hazard — or some mixture of all of these. In each, accidents, mishaps, and setbacks are assured to be more frequent and their consequences more severe than in conventional drilling operations. The apocalyptic poster little one for these processes already performed out in 2010 with BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe within the Gulf of Mexico, and this summer we saw intimations of how it’ll occur again as a range of major unconventional drilling initiatives — all promising that “golden age” — ran into severe hassle.

Perhaps the most notable instance of this was Shell Oil’s expensive failure to start test drilling within the Alaskan Arctic. After investing $4.5 billion and years of preparation, Shell was poised to drill 5 take a look at wells this summer season within the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska’s northern and northwestern coasts. However, on September 17th, a series of accidents and mishaps forced the corporate to announce that it could suspend operations until subsequent summer time — the only time when these waters are largely freed from pack ice and so it’s safer to drill.

Shell’s problems began early and picked up tempo as the summer wore on. On September 10th, its Noble Discoverer drill ship was compelled to abandon operations at the Burger Prospect, about 70 miles offshore within the Chukchi Sea, when floating sea ice threatened the safety of the ship. A extra critical setback occurred later within the month when a containment dome designed to cover any leak that developed at an undersea properly malfunctioned throughout assessments in Puget Sound in Washington State. As Clifford Krauss famous in the brand new York Occasions, “Shell’s inability to control its containment equipment in calm waters beneath predictable test situations recommended that the corporate wouldn’t be capable of successfully stop a sudden leak in treacherous Arctic waters, where powerful ice floes and gusty winds would complicate any spill response.”

Shell’s effort was also impeded by persistent opposition from environmentalists and native groups. They have repeatedly brought swimsuit to dam its operations on the grounds that Arctic drilling will threaten the survival of marine life essential to native livelihoods and tradition. Solely after promising to take immensely expensive protecting measures and successful the help of the Obama administration — fearful of showing to dam “job creation” or “energy independence” during a presidential campaign — did the corporate acquire the necessary permits to proceed. However some lawsuits stay in play and, with this newest delay, Shell’s opponents could have added time and ammunition.

Officials from Shell insist that the corporate will overcome all these hurdles and be able to drill subsequent summer time. However many observers view its experience as a deterrent to future drilling in the Arctic. “As long as Shell has not been ready to point out that they’ll get the permits and begin to drill, we’re a bit skeptical about moving ahead,” stated Tim Dodson of Norway’s Statoil. That firm additionally owns licenses for drilling within the Chukchi Sea, but has now decided to postpone operations till 2015 on the earliest.

Extreme Water
One other unexpected impediment to the arrival of energy’s subsequent “golden age” in North America emerged even more unexpectedly from this summer’s document-breaking drought, which still has 80% of U.S. agricultural land in its grip. The energy angle on all this was, nevertheless, a surprise.

Any enhance in U.S. hydrocarbon output would require higher extraction of oil and fuel from shale rock, which can only be accomplished by way of hydro-fracking. Extra fracking, in turn, means extra water consumption. first red shirt to die on star trek With the planet warming thanks to climate change, such intensive droughts are expected to intensify in many areas, which implies rising agricultural demand for much less water, including potentially in prime fracking locations just like the Bakken formation of North Dakota, the Eagle Ford space of West Texas, and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania.

The drought’s affect on hydro-fracking grew to become strikingly evident when, in June and July, wells and streams began drying up in lots of drought-stricken areas and drillers out of the blue discovered themselves competing with arduous-pressed food-producers for no matter water was obtainable. “The quantity of water wanted for drilling is a double whammy,” Chris Faulkner, the president and chief executive officer of Breitling Oil & Gasoline, advised Oil & Fuel Journal in July. “We’re getting pushback from farmers, and my fear is that it’s going to get worse.” In July, in truth, the state of affairs turned so dire in Pennsylvania that the Susquehanna River Basin Fee suspended permits for water withdrawals from the Susquehanna River and its tributaries, forcing some drillers to suspend operations.

If this year’s “endless summer” of unrelenting drought were just a fluke, and we may anticipate ample water in the future, the golden age situation may still be viable. But most local weather scientists suggest that extreme drought is likely to develop into the “new normal” in lots of parts of the United States, placing the fracking growth very much into question. “Bakken and Eagle Ford are our big keys to vitality independence,” Faulkner noted. “Without water, drilling shale fuel and oil wells will not be potential. A continuing drought may trigger our home production to decline and derail our highway to power independence in a hurry.”

And then there are those Canadian tar sands. Turning them into “oil” additionally requires vast amounts of water, and climate-change-associated shortages of that important commodity are also possible in Alberta, Canada, their heartland. In addition, tar sands manufacturing releases far more greenhouse gasoline emissions than standard oil manufacturing, which has sparked its own fiercely determined opposition in Canada, the United States, and Europe.

In the U.S.opposition to tar sands has till now largely focused on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion, 2,000-mile conduit that may carry diluted tar sands oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, 1000’s of miles away. Parts of the Keystone system are already in place. If completed, the pipeline is designed to carry 1.1 million barrels a day of unrefined liquid across the United States.

Keystone XL opponents cost that the undertaking will contribute to the acceleration of local weather change. It also exposes essential underground water supplies in the Midwest to severe risk of contamination by the highly corrosive tar-sands fluid (and pipeline leaks are commonplace). Citing the closeness of its proposed route to the vital Ogallala Aquifer, President Obama denied permission for its construction final January. (Because it will cross a global boundary, the president will get to make the call.) He’s, nevertheless, expected to grant put up-election approval to a brand new, much less aquifer-threatening route; Mitt Romney has vowed to give it his approval on his first day in office.

Even when Keystone XL were in place, the golden age of Canada’s tar sands won’t be in sight — not with out but extra pipelines as the bitumen producers face mounting opposition to their extreme operations. Because of fierce resistance to Keystone XL, led in giant part by TomDispatch contributor Invoice McKibben, — the public has change into far more conscious of the perils of tar sands production. Resistance to it, for example, may stymie plans to ship tar sands oil to Portland, Maine (for transshipment by ship to refineries elsewhere), through an current pipeline that runs from Montreal by Vermont and New Hampshire to the Maine coast. Environmentalists in New England are already gearing up to oppose the plan.

If the U.S. proves too robust a nut to crack, Alberta has a backup plan: development of the Northern Gateway, a proposed pipeline via British Columbia for the export of tar sands oil to Asia. However, it, too, is working into bother. Environmentalists and native communities in that province are implacably opposed and have threatened civil disobedience to prevent its building (with major protests already set for October 22nd exterior the Parliament Building in Victoria).

Sending tar sands oil throughout the Atlantic is prone to have its personal set of issues. The European Union is contemplating adopting rules that would label it a dirtier type of power, subjecting it to varied penalties when imported into the European Union. All of this is, in flip, has compelled Albertan authorities to consider tough new environmental laws that may make it more difficult and costly to extract bitumen, doubtlessly dampening the enthusiasm of buyers and so diminishing the future output of tar sands.

Excessive Planet
In a sense, whereas the goals of the boosters of those new types of energy could thrill journalists and pundits, their reality may very well be expressed this fashion: extreme power = excessive strategies = excessive disasters = extreme opposition.

There are already many indications that the brand new “golden age” of North American oil is unlikely to materialize as publicized, together with an unusually fast decline in oil output at present shale oil drilling operations in Montana. (Although Montana just isn’t a serious producer, first red shirt to die on star trek the decline there is significant because it is occurring in part of the Bakken field, extensively thought-about a major source of new oil.) As for the rest of the Western Hemisphere, there may be little room for optimism there both on the subject of the “promise” of excessive energy. Sometimes, for instance, a Brazilian courtroom has ordered Chevron to stop production at its multibillion-dollar Frade area within the Campos basin of Brazil’s deep and harmful Atlantic waters because of repeated oil leaks. Doubts have meanwhile arisen over the ability of Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, to develop the immensely difficult Atlantic “pre-salt” fields on its own.

While output from unconventional oil operations in the U.S. and Canada is probably going to point out some development within the years forward, there isn’t a “golden age” on the horizon, only varied kinds of doubtlessly disastrous situations. These like Mitt Romney who declare that the United States can achieve power “independence” by 2020 or every other near-time period date are solely fooling themselves, and perhaps some parts of the American public. They may certainly make use of such claims to achieve help for the rollback of what environmental protections exist towards the exploitation of excessive power, however the United States will remain dependent on Middle Eastern and African oil for the foreseeable future.

After all, had been such a publicized golden age to come back about, we would be burning vast quantities of the dirtiest vitality on the planet with truly disastrous consequences. The truth is that this: there is only one potential golden age for U.S. (or some other type of) power and it would be based on a major push to provide breakthroughs in climate-friendly renewables, especially wind, photo voltaic, geothermal, wave, and tidal energy.

Otherwise the one “golden” sight round is likely to be the solar on an ever hotter, ever dirtier, ever more excessive planet.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world safety research at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the creator, most just lately, of The Race for What’s Left. A film based on one among his earlier books, Blood and Oil, will be ordered at Klare’s different books and articles are described at his web site. You may comply with Klare’s work on Facebook.

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